The injuries suffered by a Somali-Canadian man during an arrest in Ottawa four years ago did not cause or directly contribute to his death, defence lawyers told a police officer’s manslaughter trial Tuesday.
Lawyers representing Const. Daniel Montsion argued in their closing submissions that Abdirahman Abdi had a then-unknown heart condition that was exacerbated by his emotional and physical stress on July 24, 2016.
They told a virtual court hearing that a forensic pathologist found Abdi could have hit a “point of no return” in terms of his health before Montsion even arrived at the scene.
“A point of no return doesn’t mean that death is likely or the person’s unwell, it means that death is inevitable within that period of peril,” defence lawyer Solomon Friedman said.
The arrival of the first police officer, Const. Dave Weir, escalated the stress for Abdi, who ran away and was pepper sprayed in the face twice by that officer, Friedman said.
From that point on, “there are numerous instances where Mr. Abdi may have well been past the point of no return,” he said.
Abdi, 37, suffered a heart attack during the incident and died in hospital the next day.
Prosecutors allege the blows inflicted on Abdi — including punches Montsion delivered to his face with reinforced gloves — caused his fatal heart attack.
Court has heard Abdi suffered significant facial injuries, including a broken nose.
Montsion has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon.
Prosecutors told the court Tuesday the force used by Montsion was ”completely disproportionate and completely unnecessary,” particularly considering how quickly the confrontation played out.
They argued the officer failed to conduct his own assessment of the situation before jumping into the fray and did not consider any other possible course of action.
Security video of the incident shows Montsion “decided what he was going to do before he reached Mr. Abdi,” prosecutor Phil Perlmutter said.
Montsion had other options, including to simply back off, he added.
“In our submission, Mr. Abdi was contained. In our submission, Mr. Abdi was unarmed. In our submission… Mr. Abdi’s so-called aggressive actions were not as they’ve been characterized by the defence.”
Montsion “knew what those gloves were likely to do when they impact with somebody’s face,” Perlmutter said, and the officer used them as a weapon even though they may not be conceived as such.
The defence acknowledged Montsion swung at Abdi’s face before the man was brought to the ground, but argued the punches were meant as “distractionary blows” and caused no injury.
Lawyer Michael Edelson said security video of the confrontation does not show any bleeding after the punches from his client.
He suggested the injury instead occurred moments later when Abdi was brought to the ground by Weir, saying Abdi went “from standing to face down in a second or less.”
Even if Montsion did break Abdi’s nose, Edelson argued the Crown has not proven the force he used was intended or likely to cause grievous bodily harm.
The defence also argued the gloves Montsion wore, which had reinforced knuckles, were purchased by his supervisor and part of his uniform, and thus should not be considered a weapon.
Police were called to a coffee shop in Ottawa that day in response to reports of a man causing a disturbance.
Court has heard Weir was the first to arrive, but Abdi fled, and the officer caught up to him outside his apartment building a few blocks away. Montsion was called to assist.
The incident sparked several protests in Ottawa and other cities.
Closing submissions were initially scheduled for April but were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Crown is slated to conclude its submissions Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 21, 2020.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press